This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
Nina Planck's Real Food is an excellent primer for ditching industrial crap and eating wholesome nourishing foods, so I was excited to read Real Food for Mother and Baby. No, i'm not planning on having a baby anytime soon, but if you are planning on having a baby ever, it's important to start planning when you are young. In this book she makes the point that when you are having a baby, it is drawing on fat stores laid many years before. What kinds of fats do you want going into your future children?
Nina Planck is of the Weston A. Price school of thought and is not a paleo dieter, but since there is no paleo baby book currently and WAPF has some intersection, lots of this advice might be useful for prospective paleo parents.
Her fertility chapter is particularly good. Her four fertility rules are: be an omnivore, eat good fats, eat seafood, and don't eat carbage. The most important nutrients for boosting and maintaining fertility are:
Isn't it nutritionism to reduce it to nutrients? No, because our modern diets are so deficient that to get these naturally has to be learned. Most Americans get their folate and iodine from enriched bread and salt. You have to be aware and willing to adjust your diet to get them on the paleo diet. She also emphasizes the importance of MEN getting these nutrients too and points out all the studies that show that the quality and quantity of most modern men's sperm has decreased. For men the most important nutrients are antioxidants, vitamin C, vitamin E, folate, iron, DHA, selenium, and zine. It's a good excuse for future moms and dads to go enjoy some oysters together and then...well, you get the picture. The missing part of this chapter is information on recovering your fertility after taking the pill FOREVER, as many modern women do.
The prenatal chapter is less useful, as it talks mostly about how much trouble she had complying with the WAPF prescriptions and how she drank alcohol because the risk isn't *that* high. Hmm. The information on morning sickness is interesting though. Apparently it's a universal thing from !Kung hunter-gatherer women to modern women and is an evolutionary adaptation. Even more useful is the information on iron. Boy I wish I had known this with I was in college and had IBS. Once I had anemia and I was given an iron supplement. My stomach practically exploded! Nina points out how excessive Iron can feed bad bacteria in the gut. Many doctors give pregnant women iron supplements, but there is strong evidence that the decline in iron concentration is a natural adaptation to protect women from infection.
Her childbirth chapter goes even less well. She really really wants to have a "natural" childbirth, but ends up needing a C-section because of the unusual position of her baby. I wish she had gone into more detail about why she wanted such a natural childbirth in the first place, since so many people think the concept is woo. But there are good reasons to not want a C-section and birth where your baby is immediately taken away to a ward, one of them is that it permanently alters the gut ecosystem and another is that it can affect the release of bonding hormones, which is discussed in detail in the Continuum Concept.
BTW I think the idea that life for paleolithic woman was HORRIBLE because of pregnancy is garbage. Clearly, many many many women, almost all of our ancestors, gave birth without a problem. It was painful and some women did die, but I'm personally sick of hearing paleo detractors go on and on about it. Paleo diet is a diet and a thought paradigm, not a reenactment club. The fact that so many women gave birth in harsh environments is a testament to their health. It can unfortunately take generations of eating better to fully recover that strength in the form of better-formed pelvic bones that many of us lack these days.
The breastfeeding chapter is very interesting. Nina is a former low-fat vegetarian and presents valuable information on why that is NOT a good choice for nursing mothers. The smoking gun is the level of DHA, the important omega-3 fat, are .10% in vegans and the desirable level is .35%. So many vegans have told me "well, if things like DHA are so important, how come vegans can have babies?" Possible vs. optimal. Reminds me of this article by prominent raw vegan Shazzie:
The truth is, though I'd love to see it, I have never once seen a 100% raw 100% vegan 100% unsupplemented child past breastfeeding age who has no tooth decay and is the correct weight and height for their age. Not one. Ever. On the other hand, I have, since 2001 seen countless raw vegan unsupplemented children spanning several countries with growth, teeth and mental disorders. Now, don't ask, because I will not name names, ever. I have cried at the child who was so retarded he barely moved (he since recovered on a cooked vegetarian diet, perhaps with some fish in the early stages). My heart has sank at the tiny girl on YouTube who has hardly any top teeth due to visible decay. My heart has wept when I've received letters from mothers who "just couldn't raise their children raw vegan", no matter how much they wanted to, even though they followed the advice of "experts" to the letter. And I've been puzzled as to why the raw food community covers these issues up time and time again. "Is it just me"? I've often wondered?
I understand why. This book is good, but it also highlights the extremely difficult struggle to have healthy children in a modern urban environment. After reading this book, I vowed that if I have children I would want to have a supportive community first.
Nina tries to feed her baby healthy, but doesn't seem to want the other moms to think she is a weirdo, so she lets her baby have crackers and bread. Soon enough, that's all baby Julian wants to eat.
There are good arguments for not turning children into pariahs with "weird" diets, but you should be able to feed a non-talking baby whatever you want. If anything, this exposes a flaw in WAPF. Adults know that fermented properly prepared grains are the only healthy grains, but a baby doesn't. It doesn't matter if you are feeding your baby the best bread ever, you are still giving it a taste for bread. It's too bad, because Nina recognizes that grains are unnecessary and even detrimental for young babies. With the culture against you, I think it's important to at least get in the best possible nutrition before kids realize the social status of cake. And this will happen.
I suspect a major problem is her friends, who she mentions don't think twice before feeding their kids white flour. I hope the paleo community is big enough when I have kids, so I don't have to worry about mothers in my playgroup who think not giving your kids cupcakes on their birthday is a human rights violation. I notice wealthy NYC children noshing on crackers and pretzels all the time. Most of them frankly look sickly- dark circles, crooked teeth, and pinched poorly forced facial features. Many of them have allergies. With all the obsession with fancy strollers and birthing classes, you'd think parents would figure out that dietary quality matters.
I also have to wonder about prenatal yoga. This is SO trendy in cities like NYC and Nina participates in it. Her quest for a natural childbirth is thwarted because her baby is in a strange position and has to have a C-section. Hmmm, maybe contorting our adult bodies into unnatural positions isn't good for us. I definitely wouldn't do prenatal yoga...or any other type of yoga.
Another New York problem rears its head. Nina has to work, so she has to hire a nanny. Early humans would have relied on family members to pick up the slack, but in today's sad isolated world, grandma lives 500 miles away and you have to pay someone who isn't related to you or a permanent part of your life...yet who will have a permanent influence. I remember when I worked at a camp and some children were picked up at 5 by nannies. They would look jealously at the children picked up by their mothers and grandmothers. Many would cry. Some of these nannied children had speech difficulties because their nannies didn't speak English well. There is also the inevitable loss of tradition as children are raised by strangers. I understand that some poor women have to send their children to daycare because their work feeds their family, but Nina Planck is not poor and later in the book they buy a second home. (The Two Income Trap is a great book about why you shouldn't depend on both incomes anyway.)
There is an evolutionary reason why women live so long- because long lived women increased the odds that their children's offspring would survive by caring for them and teaching them. The children benefited the elders too- providing them with interaction and mental stimulation. How many of us have grandparents languishing in far away nursing homes instead? It's an unfortunate cycle- grandma's bad diet makes her physically unable to help, so children are instead sent to daycare where they eat junk instead of grandma's homemade food. Of course plenty of grandmas are isolated from their families not because of health, but because of our culture of age stratification that sends them to Arizona or Florida instead of integrating them in a community.
The NY trap of high rents forces women to wait for decades to have their first child and to not be able to even raise it because they have to go back to work. Paleo-minded women are going to have to buck that trend. It's not romanticization- there are clear benefits to not waiting until you are 35 and to not farming out your child's care.
Overall I think this book is a good primer, but one of these days some paleo mama will come out with a book that's even better.
I love conferences, but strangely enough I never leave them feeling very happy. I guess that's because the type of learning that I value so much, which happens at these conferences, is also the kind that brings up tough questions about everything.
I'm not even sure where to start talking about my experience at Stone Barns because there was so much packed in to those two days. I'd been to Stone Barns before to tour the farming operations. I was particularly impressed with the pigs, which they forage in the lush forest. I remember not being very impressed with the broiler (that's meat) chickens though. They were nearly featherless and pathetic looking, almost like giant walking carcasses with tiny heads and black beady reptilian eyes. They were on pasture in movable coops, but they clustered together looking bored. They were nothing like the egg layers a few pastures over with their beautiful plumage and curious expressions. I had just met the Cornish Cross, the variety of chicken we are all familiar with without even knowing it.
Its neat white carcass with plump oversized breasts is pretty much what all of us are eating when we eat chicken. It's interesting that Stone Barns would opt for this type of chicken rather than a more hardy heritage breed, but it underscores the fact that local/organic agriculture is diverse and includes plenty of people concerned with business ideals. And in most business calculations, the Cornish Cross wins. It might even be more sustainable because it converts feed into meat better than any other bird which isn't sullied with pigmented feathers or weird muscling.
But it's a bird that doesn't have much personality and I've heard pasture farmers complain bitterly that they would rather die on a hot summer day then walk a few meters to get water.
I think it's too bad that these days Jonathan Safran Foer is the voice saturating the media with questions about eating meat. It's good that people are thinking about it, but too bad that someone with relatively limited agricultural experience is the dominant voice.
I was reading this interview with him this morning:
MJ: Another thing I wanted to ask you about is hunting. Do you think hunting is a more humane alternative to factory farms?
Jonathan: How is it humane? In a slaughterhouse they all go really quickly -- hunting they don't
MJ: Well, it's humane in that the animal has led a good life up until the time of death.
JSF: But that doesn't make hunting good. It makes the fact that the animal had a good life up to that point good. And those aren't our choices. I'd rather get lethal injection than be hanged, but actually I'd rather have neither. People often set up these false choices, these false dichotomies, and it's not like we have to do either of them.
I thought about that as I slaughtered my first chicken. It's pretty hard to say that an animal's death will be one way on another. Many hunters are able to kill animals instantaneously and many of those working in slaughterhouses make painful mistakes.
And maybe it's not very scientific, but I think there is something wrong about eating food from an animal that is so far away from actually being an animal. As my chicken struggled weakly to escape, I thought about how it would never ever survive in the wild. It was more machine than animal.
I thought about being a vegetarian over the next few days. In the past I've been dismissive of that choice because the egg layers on Stone Barns go through that exact same slaughterhouse when their time is up. But those egg layers sure looked more vital.
There is also the issue of health. I personally struggled on a grain and legume heavy diet as a vegetarian. I dabbled in raw veganism and my stomach problems subsided, but I had very little energy. Finally, I added in meat to that diet and felt great. In fact I was able to go off medication that doctors told me I would have to take for the rest of my life.
It would be nice to stop having to buy expensive grass fed animals and just pick up a package of tofu and a bag of beans, but until I find more foods that are vegetarian and don't obliterate my stomach, this will remain a reality. The food they served us at the conference was 95% vegetarian....I unfortunately felt quite sick from it, which was the only complaint I would levy about the experience.
And there are other realities too, such as how crops are supposed to be fertilized. The farmers on the conference told me universally that their goal was to have a sustainable system where grass feeds animals and animals feed the grass (and other crops) through compost. Without this compost where is the fertilizer going to come from?
Fossil fuels. Luckily, Wes Jackson of the Land Institute was there at dinner to tell us what fossil fuel fertilizer has wrought: the giant "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico.
People ask me how we are supposed to feed everyone with the kind of diet I eat. First I tell them that I hope others don't have my own limitations, but Wes Jackson made the valid point that feeding people and animals with annual grains isn't going so well either. His plan as a geneticist is to develop perennial wheat, sorghum, and sunflower because perennial grains do not require environmentally devastating fertilizers and tillage.
Perennial grain agriculture already exists though, it just requires grazing animals since humans can't eat those grasses. And farmers in the room worried aloud about the possibility of Jackson's crops becoming super weeds. It's, after all, naturally-bred crops, not GMOs, that have become super weeds in the past.
Besides that, the archaeological evidence is that dependence on grains has been deleterious to human health. The bones of excessively grain-dependent humans (including ourselves) are warped with deformities, though some of those are now accepted as normal such as the inability of our jaws to accommodate our wisdom teeth.
There are many alternatives to grains though. According to a A Movable Feast: Ten Millennia of Food Globalization by Kenneth Kiple, some of the healthiest bones archaeologists have found were the Native Americans on the coast of California who ate primarily seafood and acorns. In the permaculture workshops by Connor Stedman and Ethan Roland, we learned about such treecrops and farmers who are trying to revive tree-based agriculture.
Coming home, I feel like a diet that is right for me would include animals that lived with dignity, as well as a diverse variety of local vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Death is only one day and while it's important to debate it, I strongly disagree with Foer that hunting is not a good choice. Wild game is healthier for humans and the environment, especially given problems with invasive species (wild boar) and overpopulation (deer because humans have pushed out predators).
The argument that vegetarianism is the most sustainable diet falls apart in the face of the realities of agriculture. Whether it's pigs or potatoes, modern agriculture is unsustainable. The world already has the capacity (though through unsustainable grain agriculture) to feed everyone decently even if us Americans continue to chow down on chicken, but unfortunately hunger is a problem of access rather than capacity.
Stone Barns Pigs live in the forest and eat compost
The animals I eat do not eat human-food anyway, they eat grass( or trash in the case of pigs). Farmer Steffen Schneider of Hawthorne Valley farms discussed livestocks role in his Biodynamic Livestock Nutrition class. Steffen's farm is a closed system where his cattle produce all his fertilizer- that for the grass they eat and enough additional to fertilize all his vegetable crops as well. As a biodynamic farmer he is constantly thinking about his animals, body and soul, and how to nourish them so they can nourish his land and the humans that live on it.
The argument about cruelty is truly a more difficult one and why I believe everyone who chooses to eat meat should confront the blood-splattered walls of a slaughterhouse at some point.
Even though I'm not squeamish, it was definitely a difficult experience. The first animals I ever processed were these wild rabbits up on a farm in Wisconsin. It surprised me for exactly the opposite reasons the chicken slaughter did. It was fairly bloodless and it felt like these animals were part of a harvest rather than an act of violence. They lived their own lives on the farm and were full of muscle because of it.
It's a very different process to shoot an animal compared to putting the chickens upside down in "kill cones" so their heads struck out and slitting their throats. As I eviscerated them I found they had almost no muscle and tiny underdeveloped organs. They didn't fight or run. How much vitalty can one expect to get from eating such an animal? I don't regret learning about how to slaughter them, but it makes me think twice about ordering chicken wings again.
In the end my diet is not about individual animals though, it is about what sort of food system I want to support. A vegan diet can definitely support a food system that is damaging and unsustainable as a whole and a carnivorous diet can support one that isn't. Carnivore and herbivore is a false dichotomy.
Hailing farms such as Dan Barber's Blue Hill as a paragon of the "goodness of farms," Foer went as far to say that Barber "..treats his animals better than I treat my dog." And still, Foer would "not endorse these kinds of farms," because even the most conscientious farms are part of the "system" of meat-eating, which is generally wrong. As an analogy,
It's not the system of meat eating I support, it's the system of sunlight, grass, and good compost that I support, rather than oil, synthetic fertilizer, and soil erosion.
My answers to the ten most common question I get about paleo in 140 characters or less for Twitter:
What does it mean to eat paleo?
Eat simply: meat, seafood, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Oh, and learn to love fat!
Grains/sugar/legumes/seeds/dairy are new foods and not part of our evolutionary continuum and eating them causes diseases of "civilization"
How did you get started with paleo?
I had serious stomach problems and prescribed medicine didn't work. Found paleo by researching on Google and decided to try it. It worked!
Isn't your diet bad for the environment?
Industrial agriculture is unsustainable for pork OR corn, perennial grass ecosystems are the only truly sustainable way to produce food.
What are the health effects of eating paleo?
No more stomach problems, lost weight, less acne, no headaches, more energy, better mood, stronger hair and nails, milder periods+++
Is the paleo diet a masculine diet?
Paleo is for men AND women. But it does a particularly good job of supporting male nutritional needs for better performance in all things :)
What are the benefits for women?
Paleo is the ideal fuel for women to support hormonal health, fertility, and if they want to...pregnancy!
Does paleo involve eating lots of meat?
Americans already eat lots of meat. Paleo means higher quality meat with more fat and better fat.
Is paleo a temporary diet or something you can do forever?
Paleo is not a crash diet. It's a lifestyle with lifelong benefits and most people are in for the long haul.
Isn't it difficult to have a real life when eating paleo?
Nope. Its not like meat, vegetables, fruits, and nuts are rare foods! Just hold the bread and sugar please!
Bonus: How do you know what ancient people ate?
Archeologists find bones of butchered animals, but the bones of humans provide evidence as well. Isotopes show the mark of meat and seafood.
What are your questions and answers?
Feeding off my post about what our bodies expect, I thought I'd take it to another dimension. It's a total myth that since humans evolved in the seasonless equator, seasons don't matter. They do have seasons at the equator, they are just different from what we think of as seasons. As discussed in Seasonality and Human Evolution, the seasons we dealt with for most of our evolution were just two: wet and dry.
Neanderthals show physical adaptation to cold climates, but all humans have a fairly "tropical" morphology. That doesn't mean that the northern four seasons are unimportant, especially since the duality is still present and there is the possibility of smaller, but still important, genetic changes. Particularly significant is that genes for energy metabolism show climactic variation.
Either way, no matter where your ancestors came from, eating the same diet all year is probably not natural. Eating with the seasons enables you to adapt better to your environment and to reap the benefits of two types of diets. Paleo dieters already mimic the feast and famine of early life with intermittent fasting, but eating seasonally allows you to also mimic another important duality.
Right now many of my locavore friends are complaining about the lack of food selection in this late winter season. Most of them are vegetarians or eat very little meat and are having to buy imported foods to get by. There are a few stalwarts surviving mostly on various roots and tubers, but that doesn't seem very delicious or nourishing to me.
While they eat their potato beet rutabaga pie, I'm eating luscious chicken confit, beef stew, lamb shanks with celeriac mash, and wild boar with garlic kale. Local doesn't feel forced to me anymore, it's easy and natural.
It took me a long time to get to this point. When I was raw vegan I savored bananas. melons, and salads in the dead of December. Back then, even a teensy draft set me a shivering. I was completely miserable. My diet was full of "live" foods, but I felt dead. No matter how many layers of sweaters and blankets I put on, I was freezing. A walk along the frigid harbors of Stockholm was impossible.
This winter I have eaten ample amounts of fat and thyroid-supporting foods like seaweed. I feel perfectly warm and no longer need five gazillion wool blankets to get to sleep. The cold north wind blowing off the Hudson river doesn't faze me. I hardly feel deprived...I LOVE the food I'm eating and I feel nourished. The best thing is that I no longer crave sweet foods like I used to. I chalk it up to adequate fat.
December used to be for peppermint ice cream, February for gallons of heart shaped candies, and in early March I started my Cadbury Cream Egg binge. Last night I passed the Cream Eggs at the store and was briefly filled with nostalgia....but then I remembered how insipid they taste and how much better my duck confit tasted.
I hesitate to recommend TS Wiley's Lights Out: Sugar, Sleep, and Survival, because I feel it's a little lacking in scientific rigor, but it does have some important ideas. Wiley believes eating sugar in the winter keeps your body in a constant state of summer, where you need to eat as much as possible to pile on pounds for a long winter. Her prescription is to eat no sugar in the winter, but as much as you want in the summer. A similar idea may apply to omega fatty acids-: omega-3s are a summer fat and omega-6s a winter fat according to Susan Allport (hat tip to Matt Metzgar). That makes so much sense to me. The omega-3s in meat come primarily from fresh grass and animals lay down omega-6 rich fat stores for the winter. Omega-3s in large amounts can also have an immunosuppressive effect, which could be maladaptive for a long tough winter. Another area of concern that seems to be seasonal for me is the acid-base balance, which is slightly controversial, but regardless, my diet is net acid in the winter and net alkaline in the summer.
We can't forget the obvious thing: Vitamin D from sunlight, which probably accounts for the seasonality of some of the illnesses in the aforementioned book. Vitamin D is important in the winter, but it's even more important to go outside and get some sunlight in the summer when your body is expecting it.
Despite the richness of my diet and exercising much less in the winter, I have no gained any weight. In the summer I expect that my desire for fat will wane and I'll fully enjoy the bounty of fruit, herbs, and fish at the farmer's market. By autumn, as the days get colder, I will yearn once again for richer foods.
My ancestors have lived in the North for a long time, perhaps this is what my body expects. Either way, eating seasonally has allowed me to feel better and to truly enjoy local food in a way I never did when I forced myself to eat low on the food chain.
Confit, which involves cooking meat in large amounts of fat and is delicious and a great way to get more fat in your diet. As a bonus any meat that is made into confit lasts longer. Duck confit is the most well known confit, but you can cook nearly any meat this way. The most recent issue of the Weston A. Price journal mentions how the real old fashioned Mediterranean diet included lamb cooked in its own fat and salt, which they stored and ate through the winter.
I first had chicken confit at Lot2 in Brooklyn. Since I have SOOO much lard from the NYC Paleo Meetup Meatshare and my CSA share from The Piggery, I decided to try it myself. Unfortunately, I made a HUGE mistake....
I only made two chicken thighs. You really do need more, it's so delicious and fairly easy. Furthermore, it has the luscious taste of a good fried chicken without the mess or the breading.
For this confit I used
Yeah, it's that simple. To prepare the chicken for confit, I put a little bit of the salt, garlic, and pepper on the skin and wrapped it up and placed it under a heavy dish, skin side down, in the fridge. A few hours later I took it out. I made it a little bed in my crockpot with squares of the unmelted lard to slow down the cooking a little since my crockpot gets a little hot. At 11:30, when I went to bed (I know, bad), I put the chicken skin side down on the lard bed and turned the crock pot on low. When I got up at 7 my whole kitchen smelled of warm fried chicken.
For the finished touch, I put in in my toaster oven on broil to crisp the skin. I wanted to save it for dinner, but I couldn't resist. I ate one thigh for breakfast. Between the crispy golden skin and the silky smooth fatty flesh, I was in heaven. It was like fried chicken...except it wasn't just the skin that was delicious! The whole thigh was amazing, even the little ends of cartilage on the bone, which had melted and then been crisped into a pork rind-like treat. There was excess fat left over, so I'll poach some root veggies in that when I eat the second thigh.
I'm normally not a huge fan of chicken...I LOVE the skin, but the flesh bores me to death. This solved that problem and the lard surplus too!
When I was a child I went to "marine biology" camp at a marine animal theme park. I remember being very enthusiastic about working with dolphins and seals. That enthusiasm was promptly crushed when I got to see the tiny concrete cages where they spent most of their lives. The were painted that garnish teal color that swimming pools tend to be painted and reeked of disinfectants. They fed them the cheapest rancid throw-away fish, a world away from their rich and diverse diets in the wild.
I thought about that when I heard about the killer whale at Sea World that drowned a trainer. Killer whales in captivity live in environments completely inappropriate for their species' evolutionary heritage. At least most zoos try to make things like in the wild, but marine parks are all about concrete. Instead of eating seals and salmon, they eat whatever fish is cheapest on the market. Instead of living in pods, they are sometimes kept alone. Of course they suffer from reduced lifespan and bizarre pathologies like dorsal fin collapse.
Author Erich Hoyt said:
As I reported in The Performing Orca and also in some detail in Orca: The Whale Called Killer, trainers have noted that orcas start to get bored and go a bit crazy after a few years in captivity. You must imagine a highly intelligent social mammal and a big predator normally traveling 100 kms or more a day, then taken from its family, stripped of its ability to socialize normally, to hunt and to travel. What it has left is its relationship to the trainer, but how long can that really keep them interested?
Substitute a few words and that could be about Homo Sapiens. It's interesting that despite the immense power and predatory nature of killer whales, they don't prey on us in the wild. They have even been known to cooperate with humans in the hunt. The killer whales of Eden that were documented to cooperate with humans might be the tip of the iceberg in that relationship, as it might have been present in other cultures and died out before it was documented. Perhaps killer whales recognize us as kin: high intelligent seafaring top level predators.
Some of you might think "Why is a woman who has eaten whale talking about this?" Hunting is part of our evolutionary heritage and benefits us physically and emotionally. Keeping animals in concrete tanks is not. We can and should provide evolutionarily appropriate environments for both animals and humans. It benefits the health of all involved.
If Sea World provided larger more natural tanks for its animals and a diet of penguins, seals, shark livers, whale tongues, and other nutritious traditional orca foods...I might go there, but I doubt that will happen anytime soon.
The gate of knowledge is closed!
Oh how ungrateful I was back then when I was enrolled in a big university. I didn't realize how annoying it would be to not have access to a large academic library. Sciencedirect now asks me to pay five gazillion dollars for the studies I want to read. It almost makes me want to enroll in school again.
I live in freaking NYC, but the library here doesn't have the richness of that library in the middle of Illinois.
When I did have access to the wonderful online research databases, I remember seeing that some misguided nutritionists and anthropologists cited papers by S. Boyd Eaton when they tried to say the paleolithic diet was plant-based and low-fat. So it's nice to see Eaton himself in this recent article about the paleolithic diet in Macleans eat his hat:
He says he had failed to consider the contribution of non-muscle meat like brain and fat depots, and thus underestimated the amount of fat we need. “It makes me feel stupid!”
Oops. Also on display is tehstupid
Konnor still thinks that was the right call, and believes his original concerns about fat were prudent. “You can’t just go to the supermarket and buy meat loaded with fat and say you’re doing the Paleolithic diet. You’re not.”
Ugh, such an annoying misconception perpetuated by restaurants that serve miserable cuts of miserable game for miserable prices. Yeah, that wild boar tenderloin roast at terrible overpriced restaurant is lean because the company that sold it is feeding the public's desire for "lean" healthy game. Any real hunter can tell that that game varies in fat content by species and season. Some game is very very fatty! And the cuts served at Green Meadows Fancy Golf Course Grill, typically lean cuts, are not representative of the real richness of game. This Hazda article speaks more to traditional consumption
Bones are smashed with rocks and the marrow sucked out. Grease is rubbed on the skin as a sort of moisturizer. No one speaks a word, but the smacking of lips and gnashing of teeth is almost comically loud.
Speaking of bones, I just finished reading the excellent cookbook Bones, by Jennifer McLagan. A full post on this excellent book is due, as bones are absolutely essential for a successful paleo diet, providing ample amounts of fat, calcium, and other important nutrients.
Also, what's the deal with lacto paleo? I must say I'm not a fan of this trend or term. A paleo diet with dairy is not a paleo diet, it's a nomadic pastoralist diet. Such pastoralists are pretty healthy, but they are not representative of stone agers. There is absolutely no convincing evidence that dairy is paleo. That doesn't mean it's bad, but it does lead to some dilution of the paleo terminology.
Also annoying is this NY Times article about some who argue that depression is somehow an evolutionary adaptation. In my opinion it's like arguing that heart disease is an evolutionary adaptation. I think it's fairly clear that depression is a disease of civilization caused by living inappropriately to our evolutionary heritage whether it's working inside all day staring at a glowing rectangle or not getting enough omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately this viewpoint is not in the article. The opposing view is that it's a hopeless disorder that can only be treated with modern drugs.
I thought about that when reading the graphic novel bio of logician Bertrand Russell. He is devastated by the schizophrenia that seems to be an inevitable part of his bloodline. But there is increasing evidence that omega-3 fatty acids play a role. That this type of research is being done in the age of drug fixes is very hopeful and I would bet that scientists will eventually find even more nutritional factors that govern mental illness.
With most big proponents of the paleo diet being male and the general taboo against this subject, it's not surprising that menstruation and the paleo diet is little discussed. That's a shame, because the beneficial effects of the paleo diet on menstruation is one of the main reasons I keep to the diet.
In most of the modern world, getting your period is a pain. It can last as long as a week and be accompanied by all manners of maladies ranging from irritability to stomach upset. Young women are getting their period earlier and earlier, at the ages of 11 and 12. This has been tied to disease later in life.
It's hard to know what menstruation was like in the paleolithic, but the modern hunter-gatherers studied provide some insight. Foragers, and most women in the rest of the world, get their period around 16. That makes sense because if women started earlier it might make for risky pregnancies. In Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman, menstruation is described as a "thing of no account." It's the conventional narrative that menstruation would have been rare for hunter-gatherers, but this is not true. It would have been less because of breast feeding and pregnancy, but still part of the female experience.
This excellent article about that myth talks about how sometimes !Kung women will have periods but will have not released an egg. It also talks about the myth that exercise causes amenorrhea
I learned, by studying runners, what is true for all women - ovulation and menstruation are not the same. Regular periods can and do occur with no ovulation or with disturbed ovulation[8,13,14]. However, like most doctors (and consequently, ordinary women), Is Menstruation Obsolete? implies that periods mean ovulation. It also infers that amenorrhea is (just) anovulation. In fact, amenorrhea means both estrogen and progesterone levels are low-a situation that always causes fast bone loss and the risk for osteoporosis.
She contrasts low fertility caused by living an active and natural life, with the Western illness of amenorrhea, which seems to be unrelated to those things.
My own experience is that prior to starting the paleo diet, I had very heavy periods lasting as long as a week and accompanied by irritability, stomach sickness, and headaches. After I had been on the paleo diet for awhile, my periods became shorter, lighter, and easier. The times I have gone off the paleo diet and had bad periods again have been a huge incentive to stick with the diet.
Why are my periods so much better now? Well, the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 has been linked to PMS. The reduction in body fat also probably decreased the length of my period.
The problems with modern periods can be linked to various modern habits from contraceptive pills to environmental toxins to delayed childbirth. However, it's clear that appropriate nutrition plays a role.
Some women have reported amenorrhea on the paleo diet. The causes of amenorrhea seem to be varied and some are serious, so a visit to a doctor might be in order.
A while back I read an article mentioning a book called Prehistoric Cookery. It had some interesting ideas, so I bought the book.
Unfortunately the book is really a tiny little coffee table book. I was hoping for something more substantial, but it did get me thinking about ancient mesolithic and iron age diets of the Celts.
Scotland and Ireland are disproportionately affected by alcoholism, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and celiac disease. For some time there was a theory that this was because Celts are descended from a "Celtic Fringe" of more recent hunter-gatherers similar to the Finnish and Sami fringe further north. Recently, that theory was seriously questioned by genetic research that showed that Celts are most likely descendants of Middle Eastern neolithic farmers, mixed with perhaps some local hunter-gatherer stock.
It's really quite amazing how ignorant even scientific professionals are about the history of food, such as Colin T. Campbell or the professor in the article about Prehistoric Cookery, Brian Radcliffe, who claims
“The main lesson is that as humans we need a huge variety of food from a range of different sources and food groups, ” he says. “We can see from early man’s experience that it is not good enough to rely upon single sources and single groups of foods because they did not give them the nutrients they needed.
Ugh. First of all, he obviously hasn't read the book he is commenting on, which clearly shows the wide variety of foods consumed by the Celts ranging from fish roe to nettles to berries. Also, he doesn't seem to know about the many groups of indigenous peoples who rely on flesh and are healthy.
The author of Prehistoric Cookery makes some of the same mistakes, saying that "like studied hunter-gatherers" the diet of ancient Celts would have been 80% plants, which is NOT true. Hunter-gathers studied get most of their calories from meat. Isotope studies indicate that the Celtic diet in the Iron Age was very high in meat.
Mesolithic Celts seem to have eaten deer and wild boar. Their remains are typically on the shoreline, where they left shell middens and probably ate seaweed, roe, and whole fish. Early grains cultivated were mainly oats. Barley and early forms of wheat swept in later, but oats remained very important. Perhaps that is why their teeth in the Medieval period were better than the more wheat-centric English.
Weston A. Price visited the Isle of Lewis in Scotland and found that the natives were remarkably healthy and had beautiful teeth despite their "limited" diet. A diet of fish and oats might seem limited to us, but they ate parts of the fish that we typically don't:
An important and highly relished article of diet has been baked cod's head stuffed with chopped cod's liver and oatmeal.
I do think it's important to note that the oat eaters of the mesolithic were just not as healthy as their hunter-gatherer ancestors. Their bones were smaller and less sturdy. Traditional agrarian diets aren't bad, but I still don't believe they are optimal.
Here are some foods that I would definitely like to eat more of from Prehistoric Cookery include:
The traditional bread was nearly flat and rather tough. It's interesting because since breads persist in Scandinavia. A local NYC bakery does the real thing. The Celts also fermented their oats.
On the subject of Ireland, it's also good to note that of course the potato was introduced very late. It spurred population increases that ended up being disastrous when the potato famine hit. Before potatoes were introduced, the diet of the Irish probably resembled that of the Masai, as they also relied on their cattle herds for both dairy and meat.
Cattle blood, not potatoes for Cuchulainn